I’ve previously written about The White Man’s Burden, by William Easterly, and I consider this to be its companion volume. Easterly and Sachs are essentially competing economists, with Sachs playing the optimistic protagonist and Easterly the dastardly pragmatist skeptic. Sachs thinks the developing world can rise out of poverty if we can just get a couple of billion poor people to plant their feet on the first rung of the development ladder. That may seem a nice thought, but a cynic —like me— might say it’s really just an invitation for the “free market” to come and exploit the poor of the world.
Ultimately I think that the naivety of the ‘development ladder approach’ is my main problem with this book, as it seems to excuse or at least overlook poisoning or enslaving the poor, so long as you call it development and pay them thirty cents per hour. That isn’t enough for me. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I think there are certain universal human rights, and the solution to world poverty must pay respect to those rights. To assume that we can lead people to the ladder and once their foot is on the first rung completely overlooks the fact that there are forces, both deliberate and inadvertent, working to push people backwards down that ladder. This book, in my view, largely overlooks the existence of exploitation and institutionalized injustice.
For more on my thoughts of Sachs and Easterly, see the WMB review. I think Jeffrey Sachs is definitely a humanitarian, and I think End of Poverty is a good book, and is certainly worth reading, it just does not fit with my exact worldview.